POST 5 OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE
Villach is a city located in the federal state of Carinthia in Austria. Nearby is Italy and Slovenia. We were drawn to Villach because it was in this city that the Add-e motors we had fitted to our bikes in Brunnen Switzerland were made. I was interested in meeting the designer and seeing where this wonderful innovation came from.
Before describing our experiences in Villach we should have a map for orientation purposes.
Archaeologists tell us that if we wound the clock back 12 000 years we would see people similar in looks to us wandering around going about the business of killing animals and grinding grains with stone tools and generally making a go at surviving. And then if we were to wind the clock back even further the mountain range in the previous photograph would have been under water as the mountains are basically marine deposits in the form of limestone.
Villach today is an active seismic region. There is an earthquake every couple of years, not big ones like the one in 1348 (around 6.9 on the Richter Scale), which coincidently for some marked the start of the Black Death in Europe. Many people at the time suggested that the unexpected tremendous earthquake and unforseen cataclysmic spread of the Black Death were acts of God against Man the sinner.
The Drau River runs through the centre of Villach and is the sixth longest tributary of the Danube. According to references, it is the most energetically exploited river in Europe with almost 100% of its potential used for the generation of electricity, with twenty-four hydro plants along its 709 kilometre length.
When we gaze upon European rivers such as the Drau I think about the biodiversity and ecology of the river. Does it have a biodiversity or has man exploited and destroyed what did once exist? Surprisingly, it seems all has not been lost. I am of this opinion after reading a story called ‘Drava Life’, a publication published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In 2011 five countries, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia signed an agreement to protect ‘Europe’s Amazon’. It does of course remain to be seen if the Drava can be protected. Following are some images of a ride we did along the Drau (Drava) River.
Limestone is a wonderful resource. It is the basis of cement, is used as road fill and building construction. It is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral and molluscs. It’s hard to imagine the extent of the sea that once covered a big proportion of the European continent.
One of the main reasons for visiting Villach was to visit the inventor and designer of the Add-e motors we had fitted to our bikes. The Add-e factory was located close to the YHA where we stayed a couple of nights between Couchsurfer hosts Klaus and Bernd.
The Add-e motor has evolved like most inventions and it has taken some years to develop it to the successful stage it is at now. The development started when Fabian, the principal of the Add-e company, was an engineering student. Whilst at the Add-e factory he gave our motor installation the once over and discovered the tyre ran slightly eccentric because I had a thorn-proof inner tube fitted to the rear wheel of my bike. This necessitated the change of a tube and a slight adjustment.
Whilst in Villach we stayed with two Couchsurfer hosts and also spent time in a Youth Hostel. The hostel was difficult to find as it was set within a sporting complex and no obvious signs indicating its location. Hostels have changed over the years. In the particular one we stayed in there was no communal kitchen so Bev and I cooked outside, not a problem but having no kitchen meant no social intercourse with fellow travellers. Another noticeable change affected us at breakfast, the tariff included breakfast and unfortunately not a soul spoke to us during this time, everybody in the dining room were totally engaged with their smart phones. These devices have a lot to answer for.
Our first Couchsurfing host in Villach was Klaus who was able to accommodate us for one night. He was preparing for an extended holiday of rock-climbing in Thailand and Australia. Klaus was a materials specialist and worked for a company who developed snowboards and snow skis and as a consequence we became informed about the materials used in the manufacture of such sporting goods.
Finding Klaus’ flat was not easy as the address we were given was 28/2 and we assumed no. 28 flat 2 but no, it was no. 2 flat 28. There is a vast difference between the two, so there we stood as the sun sank slowly in the west at a loss as to where our host lived. Fortunately Klaus went out on patrol in his car and found us.
Our second Couchsurfer host was Bernd who we stayed with for two nights. He left the key to his apartment in a secret place and told us to let ourselves into the apartment and make ourselves at home. He arrived home around 5.00pm and introduced us to banana soup. I now give you the recipe as it was fantastic.
Place in a blender: 1 banana, dessertspoon of plain flour (makes the smoothie smooth), big mob of parsley, stock cube (choose wisely if vegetarian), a dab of butter (coconut butter if vegan) and water. Blend then enjoy. In our garden at home we have copious amounts of parsley growing so we will look forward to making some banana soup when we get home and as we eat it we will think of Bernd in Villach.
Bernd was not only a proponent of the blender and healthy food but he was also a proponent of meditation, amazingly a common thread running through all the Couchsurfing hosts we have stayed with to date. Each morning before sunrise he goes outdoors and meditates as the sun rises. The belief that the sun has therapeutic and spiritual powers has been a strong held belief since ancient times and this is a very powerful meditation adjunct.
The word meditation conjures up images of a Buddhist monk or a Hindu swami with legs crossed and eyes closed chanting away the hours but this is not necessarily the case. People of many persuasions take to meditation. Many are simply ordinary people intent on taking control of their lives and getting to feel comfortable in their own bodies. No matter where your station in life is, meditation helps you to become the person you want to be and makes you a whole person.
On a personal level I do not meditate as such but each night before falling asleep I say to myself: what have I achieved today, have I done the best by the people around me, have I done something that will leave the planet a better place. If I can’t answer each of these questions truthfully I plan the next day so I can answer them with positive conviction.
Many of history’s greatest thinkers were meditators. For example, Charles Darwin practised what is called ‘active meditation’. He would take a daily morning walk and ponder over a problem to be solved and it was often during these walks he had his biggest insights. I ‘active meditate’ first thing after waking, and I often come up with my best ideas then as well.
Bernd is not only a blender expert, sun worshipper and meditator but a player of the Klangstein as well. A Klangstein?…You may well ask.
All musical instruments are phones of some sort. A lithophone comprises rock pieces which are struck or stroked to produce musical notes.
Lithophone playing has been around for centuries. The following Wikipedia image shows an example of a 1906 stalactite version.
The sound stone Bernard is playing is a piece of machined dolerite or mikro-gabbro (black granite) approximately 150mm wide and it was cut from a 19th century tombstone offcut. The stonecutter called this type of rock ‘black Swedish’ because it came from a Swedish quarry. Bernd designed this Klangstein and had a stonemason cut the lamellae. After cutting it was allowed to season for some months until it was free to give a sound. I asked Bernd the benefits of playing such an instrument and he said, and I quote:
‘The effects are not scientifically proven yet. But what you can feel is your body starting to vibrate, even if you are just listening to it. If you are playing it on your own, the vibrations of the lamellae get into your palms. As the reflective points on your palms are connected to your inner organs, these will be stimulated by the vibrations. My friends and I have observed that my sound stone dominantly stimulates the heart region when played, energetically you would say the heart-chakra –and you feel that’.
Chakras are body energy centres. Should any reader wish to pursue the health and spiritual benefits of Sound stones visit http://svaram.org/Instruments.aspx?catid=14&ctid=2
There were messages all around Villach and few get past me.
Whilst Bev and I were in Villach it rained and snowed on the higher peaks and in between there were periods of sun, all taken in our stride.
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The next post will take us to Ljubljana and Slovenia and to Sandra and Gregor Couchsurfer hosts extraordinaire.